Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"Because He doesn’t exist"

10/23/2018—I go back through my old Sports Illustrated issues—long story—and I found a short essay by Ana Marie Cox about…well, it was about a lot: her dad, Sam, her addiction and recovery, and TCU football. It was the college football playoff issue (Embracing the Frog). I wish I could write like that.

The part about her slow recovery and her dad was just beautiful.

I trudged off to rehab lonely and in utter defeat, which turns out to be a great state of mind for starting to get better. I had met the enemy and it was me—so I surrendered. Studies show that extended intensive, in-patient treatment is one of the few methods with any success in treating addiction. But it’s prohibitively expensive—around $20,000 a month—and it wasn’t covered by my soon-to-be-ex-husband’s insurance. I had next to no money. So Sam cashed out some of his retirement funds and paid for all of it. I once tried to thank him for stepping in the way he did.

“Well, statistically, that’s what works,” he said. “Of course I paid for it.”

The foundational truths of my life today are these: I am sober. I am, finally, a fully functioning member of society. And my dad was there for me when I had given up on myself.

Now, Cox herself apparently eventually became a Christian. But the essay was not about that. It was about faith, though, at least faith in football team so bad for so long. (not anymore). One day Cox asks her dad about his atheism, expecting a story. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t get one. Sam is too taciturn.

But when at some point during my own years of religious questing I decided to engage him about his lack of faith, it went like this: “Dad, why don’t you believe in God?”

“Because He doesn’t exist.”

And then he went back to reading the paper.

There is an important lesson here. If God means the kind of being who could be said to exist, like you and me, which is what Cox’s dad thinks, then of course He doesn’t exist. But I think religious people, thinkers at least, have always known this. If God is important at all, the word must be used to describe reality, not something made up. If we want to describe the triumph of the good, the power of compassion, the forgiveness of sin that we have experienced, the most we could say is that God happens. That is a kind of process language about God. And if some people experience that happening as personal, as if someone is there to answer prayer, well that is also part of the happening of God. But, certainly, God does not exist. I believe it was Paul Tillich, the great theologian, who said that to affirm that God exists, is to deny him.

All these years I have described myself as an atheist, I was describing the same kind of atheism Sam espoused. But this is really not very helpful. Beyond existence, we have to start talking about what reality, including history, is like. Then we may get somewhere. That is what I hope to begin doing in the Bends Toward Justice Podcast Series. More on that later.

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